I’m working this week for the first time in 18 years.

I’m heading to the office today. I was there yesterday. And I’ll be there tomorrow too. While this might not seem significant to you, it is to me. This marks the first time since I partied like Prince that I have gone to an office between Christmas Day and New Year’s Eve.

Before I launched my own business I worked at an adverting agency that shut down during this span. Before that, I saved my vacation days to enjoy the entire holiday week off. Before that was 1999, the last year I was in the office. Back then I was worried about the havoc Y2K was going to wreak on my Blockbuster account.

Today

I couldn’t be happier about going to work today. Don’t get me wrong. I love my family and spending time with Dawn (my wife partner) and 3 children. But I started my advertising and idea agency, The Weaponry, because I thought it would be the best way to ensure stability for my family. Today, The Weaponry is extremely busy. And I have things to take care of.

This week I have three precious days to focus on The Weaponry’s past, present and future.

The Past.

We are busy tying a giant red bow on 2017.  It looks like we will double our revenue from 2016. But we have financial matters to complete before we arrive at the final numbers. This week we have invoices to send and expenses to expense. We are also investing more in infrastructure before the close of the year. On our shopping list:

  • Large TV/monitor for our conference room
  • 6 high stools for our recently ordered 48-inch x 96-inch high-top conference room table (it is red!)
  • Giant signs for 2 walls.
  • A refrigerator
  • A new printer/copier/fax machine/ smoke signal sender/ Carrier Pigeon launcher
  • Surf Board coffee table (you can read about it by clicking here)

The Present.

We are very fortunate to have a lot of work going through the agency right now. In fact, we will have four client presentations in the first week of 2018. Here’s a glimpse of what we are working on:

  • A major website redesign that will launch in early February
  • Several ads for various print campaigns
  • Ads for a Facebook paid media campaign
  • 2 completely new brand logos
  • A new brand name for a client (following a series of major acquisitions)
  • A brand repositioning project
  • A fun t-shirt design for a client that we just sent to the screen printer
  • A choreographed new business dance routine spectacular that we will perform in every new business meeting in 2018 (If you want to see it just invite us to come talk)

While our clients are enjoying a well deserved break, we are stealing some time to finish painting our office. Yesterday we finished painting another individual office. We finished painting our hallway, and started on our conference room. Today we plan to finish the conference room and then hang up the rollers and brushes until we expand into more space.

The Future.

We are busy preparing for 2018.  This is an extremely exciting time for us. Starting on January 1st, The Weaponry will be providing health and dental insurance to full-time employees. I am extremely proud of this milestone and will share more about finding insurance in a future post.  We are also considering adding a couple of new people to our team. We are exploring office options for our employees who live outside Milwaukee (specifically in Columbus and Atlanta).  I feel very fortunate to have to deal with such issues.

Thank You

I sincerely appreciate you following this journey by reading The Perfect Agency Project. The readership of this blog doubled from 2015 to 2016. And it doubled again in 2017 thanks to readers like you. To make sure you never miss an update please subscribe to receive each post via email.  I’ll even spring for the postage.

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My lunch with one of the greatest sportscasters of all time.

People die every day. This year I lost my friends Kirk McDonald and Kate Gruetzmacher in their early 40’s to brain cancer. I lost my 100-year-old Grammy to, well, being 100. And just before Christmas I lost sports broadcaster Dick Enberg, at 82, to a heart attack.

The Broadcaster

Dick Enberg was the sportscaster of my youth. He broadcast 8 Super Bowls, the Olympics, The Masters, Wimbledon, Major League Baseball, college basketball and boxing, His catch phrase, Oh My, was simple and powerful. And it followed many of the greatest athletic feats I witnessed as a child.

The Invitation

When I was a senior in college Dick Enberg came to the University of Wisconsin to give a speech at a banquet honoring student-athletes for high academic performance. I was a discus and hammer thrower on the track team and was proud to have been invited to the event. I was also being recognized as one of a dozen student-athletes who had earned a 4.0 GPA the previous semester. But I was most excited that Dick Enberg was going to be speaking.

The Luncheon 

Three days prior to the event I was informed that the athletic department had also arranged a private luncheon at the stadium the day of the banquet. 17 student-athletes were invited to have lunch with Mr. Enberg and participate in a discussion about issues facing student-athletes. I was one of the lucky few who received an invitation.

I arrived early to the luncheon, as we were requested to do. The athletic staff gave us the game plan and reminded us we were representing both the University and the athletic department. Which I assumed meant don’t talk with your mouth full.

The student athletes waited with great anticipation for Dick to arrive. He was finally escorted into the room and there was a brief introduction. Then an athletic staff member announced, ‘We will let Mr. Enberg go through the food line first, then the students can follow.’

I quickly realized that someone would have to follow Dick. And I thought:

Why not me?

So this discus thrower from little Norwich, Vermont marched over to the banquet table that held the spread of food, grabbed a plate, and stepped in line right behind Dick Enberg, one of the greatest sports broadcasters of all time. We talked as we walked through the line. And when Dick took his seat, I took the seat right next to him.

The next hour was amazing. We had a great group conversation. Dick showed a genuine interest in our thoughts and perspectives. I talked about the challenges of being an in-season athlete in the spring of my senior year, and not having any time to focus on finding a job and starting my career after graduation.

Dick wisely predicted that the same commitment I had to my athletic and academic success would translate well to my career. He encouraged me to enjoy the rest of my senior year. Which of course, I did.

The Banquet

That evening I attended the banquet with my favorite journalism professor, Roger Rathke, and my aunt, Deanie Sprau, who lived in Madison and was a huge reason I was drawn to The University of Wisconsin.

The banquet was at The Great Hall at the Memorial Union. The room was huge and packed. There were about 500 attendees, including student-athletes, faculty, staff, and family members. It felt like a wedding. Our assigned table was at the center of the large banquet hall.

It was fun to see all of the athletes trade in their athletic department sweatpants and t-shirts for dresses and suits. Everyone was excited to have one of America’s best known sports figures in attendance.

After a warm welcome to the event by the master of ceremonies we were served our meals. Dick Enberg was seated at the head table with Athletic Director, Pat Richter, and other university dignitaries.

In the middle of the meal I saw Dick suddenly stand up and start making his way across the large, packed hall. I presumed he was either going to visit the little broadcasters room, or taking a moment to review his notes one last time before his speech.

All eyes were on Mr. Enberg as he cut across the middle of the room. He was on a path that would take him directly past my table. He got closer and closer to me.  When he reached my table he stopped for a brief moment, gave me a big smile, and patted me on the back like we were old friends. Then he continuing on his way and disappeared from the room.

Suddenly, friends from around the Great Hall flocked to my table to find out why, in this room of 500 people, had the guest of honor stopped to say hi to some random, albeit studious, track athlete. My answer was, “Oh, we had lunch together today.”  By the looks on their faces, that was an even crazier answer than they were expecting.

The rest of the event was nice. Dick’s speech was great. And I was proud to be part of this large group of high-achieving students who happened to participate in some outramural sports in their free time.

Thinking Back

That evening serves as a great reminder of how life works. Your efforts can get you into the room. But it is the relationships that you develop along the way that make you stand out from the crowd.

Dick Enberg was right about my career too. After I graduated my professor Roger Rathke, who was with me at the banquet that night, introduced me to his college buddy  from the University of Wisconsin, Paul Counsell. Paul was the CEO of the remarkable advertising agency Cramer Krasselt. I got an informational interview, and was offered a job as a copywriter. And today I own my own agency.

Thanks

Thank you Dick Enberg. Thank you for the Super Bowls. Thank you for the Olympics. Thank for coming to Madison and having both lunch and dinner with me. And thank you for the wise career advice. Things have worked out just fine for me.

A short reminder for the shortest day of the year.

Christmas brings renewed hope for Christians.

The new year provides a fresh start for us all.

And the new fiscal year offers businesses a chance to measure new growth.

But don’t overlook the importance of the Winter Solstice, the shortest day of the year. It’s a symbol that every day for the next 6-months will have a little bit more sunshine than the day before. This is a great reminder that even the darkest times hit a maximum. And after that maximum, things get a little better, and a little brighter every day.

 

 

Focus more on the things you love.

My business plays in a fun sandbox. Brands across the United States and Canada come to my advertising and idea agency, The Weaponry, looking for smart new ideas. Our team of strategic and creative thinkers explore ideas that extend far beyond what most clients could create on their own. Clients love us because we reveal new possibilities. And because we do ridiculous things that make them laugh a lot in meetings.

Exploring the Possibilities

Clients often hire us to help them reimagine their brand. On a recent project our team presented our client with 40 new logo options to choose from. Yes, 40. We pride ourselves on offering a great range of thinking so that everyone can find something they like. You know, like a buffet. Or a boy band.

Once we concluded the share of new logos and opened the floor for discussion (ok, so the floor didn’t really open), I was surprised by the very first comments that followed. One of the clients said, “I REALLY don’t like option 9.” Then he spent several minutes elaborating on why he didn’t like option 9. After several others shared their favorites, this client spoke up again and said, ‘Did anyone else dislike option 9 as much as I did?’

The Weaponry Way

Let me let you in on one of The Weaponry’s secrets. The reason we show multiple ideas is because our clients might not like them all. I’m fine with that. My friends at Coca Cola sell a wide range of drink options so that we can all find something we like. I love Coke and Gold Peak Tea. I don’t focus on the fact that Diet Coke tastes like liquid bike tires.

It is a waste of time to focus on the things that we don’t like. Or the things that don’t work. I think of the creative process like finding your way through a maze. Once you find yourself at a dead end, immediately turn around and start exploring another option. To stop and focus on that dead end, or worse, go back to the dead end to see it again, and think about how dead that end really is, is a waste of time.

Maximizing

A few years ago I did a Strength Finders analysis. The test concluded that I am a Maximizer. Which means I don’t spend any time focusing on what happened in the past, or what can’t be changed. I focus on the possibilities in front of me and how to make something good into something great. Which is a good construct to have when you are a professional creative. Or an entrepreneur. I help my team and my clients find ideas with a lot of potential, then bring out the maximum potential in each of them.

The Take Away

Focus on the things you love most. Spend your time looking for the solutions, the answers, the wows. The beautiful building, the kind act, the smart idea, the great looking jacket, the blog post about focusing on the things you love (that you loved enough to like and share). When you see something that doesn’t work for you, move on. Focus on the great, the exciting possibilities, the things that make you happiest. You will find more good in the world. Let’s all let go of our own option #9. The other 31 options are better anyway.

*If you found anything in this post worth reading please subscribe to see more.

Why I hate networking, and what I do instead.

Since I was in college I have heard career-minded folk talk about the importance of networking. Which begs the question, What the fruit is networking? Because before college I didn’t network, and I seem to have gotten along just fine.

But starting my freshman year in college, professors, advisors and guest speakers talked about networking as if it twas the key to success beyond college (twas is a word you can only use in December). Then I started my career in advertising and I heard the same thing. Business books and career coaches strongly encourage you to network. I have even attended a few functions called networking events. Oy. 

So what the funk does it means to network? 

Oh looky here! I found a definition.

Network (verb): interact with other people to exchange information and develop contacts, especially to further one’s career.

Ahh. When you put it that way, I understand what you mean. And it kinda makes me want to barf.  ‘Interacting with people‘, ‘exchanging information’ and ‘developing contacts’ is something that can be done by a machine. Or a criminal.

What I do.

While other people network, I am still doing what I did before college. Before I was told that networking was the key to advancing my career. Before I was told networking was crucial to successful entrepreneurship.

No. I don’t network.

I befriend.

What does that mean?  Well, I just happen to have the definition for you right here:

Befriend (verb): act as a friend to someone by offering help or support.
This is what I do. I learned how to do this when I was in pre-school and it has served me well my entire life.  Notice the keys to befriending? You act as a friend. You offer help and support. This is the good stuff. This is what other people really want.  This is how you improve life on the big blue marble.

When you dive into the synonyms of befriending you develop an even richer picture:
  • make friends with
  • make a friend of
  • look after
  • keep an eye on
  • be of service to
  • lend a helping hand to
  • help
  • protect
  • side with
  • stand by
  • encourage

The Take Away

The world would be a better place if we stopped trying to network, and we just tried to make friends. So I encourage you to develop real relationships. Because when you make people the most important thing in your life, everything else magically falls into place.  Our relationships, and the positive impact we have on one another, are the only things that really matter. It is true at home. It is true in pre-school. It is true in college. And it is true in business. So if you really want to be a great success, be a great friend. If there is any way I can help, please let me know.

How to learn exciting new skills like Wilbur Wright.

We experience life in three modes.

  1. Growth Mode.
  2. Maintenance Mode.
  3. Atrophy Mode.

These modes are not sequential. You can shift from one mode to another in any order you choose. Read a book and you are in Growth Mode. Do some drugs and you are in atrophy mode. Brush your teeth and you are in Maintenance Mode. (Listen to some 80s English electronic music and you are in Depeche Mode.)

Right now I am spending as much time as I can in Growth Mode. I am reading for learning. I’m working out regularly. And I have started my own advertising and idea agency called The Weaponry, which pushes me to grow every day.

Growing By Learning From Others.

To push myself for more growth, I am soaking up as much as I can about inventors and pioneers. Recently I’ve studied Walt Disney, Lewis and Clark, the team at Pixar, and Ernest Shackleton. Right now I am studying Orville and Wilbur Wright. Notice I say that I am studying them. Not reading about them. You can read simply to be entertained. Or to kill time. I’m studying because I am trying to learn and grow.

The Wright Brothers

For those of you who aren’t up to date on your turn-of-the-last-century trivia, Orville and Wilbur Wright, from Dayton, Ohio, invented the airplane. Which changed the world forever. In fact, if it weren’t for them you wouldn’t be able to complain about the lack of leg room or that spotty in-flight wi-fi as you cross the entire country in just 6 hours.

One of the things that stood out to me about the Wrights was their highly pragmatic approach to their own growth and learning. Today, you and I can use their approach to develop our own breakthroughs, both personally and professionally.

The Wright Stuff

To learn and grow like the Wright Brothers read the following excerpt from a talk Double Dubs (my nickname for Wilbur Wright) gave to a group of engineers in Chicago:

Now, there are two ways of learning to ride a fractious horse: One is to get on him and learn by actual practice how each motion and trick may be best met; the other is to sit on a fence and watch the beast a while, and then retire to the house and at leisure figure out the best way of overcoming his jumps and kicks.

The latter system is the safest, but the former, on the whole, turns out the larger proportion of good riders. It is very much the same in learning to ride a flying machine; if you are looking for perfect safety, you will do well to sit on a fence and watch the birds; but if you really wish to learn, you must mount a machine and become acquainted with its tricks by actual trial.   -Wilbur Wright  1901

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Orville and Wilbur Wright were no couch potatoes. They were the worlds first airplane potatoes.

Applying Wilbur’s Approach

The same holds true for you my friend. You can study that challenge in front of you from the comfort of your couch. You can read about it, talk about it and watch other people do it. But if you really want to learn how to do it yourself, you have to climb aboard your own flying machine and learn the tricks yourself, through trial and error.

That’s how I started The Weaponry. I read and studied and tried to prepare ahead of time. But eventually I had to jump in the cockpit, pull back on the wheel and start messing with the controls. I’m learning by doing. And I’m learning faster than I ever could from a book or a class.

Your Growth

The same approach holds true for learning anything. You learn how to kayak, juggle, write code, start a non-profit, lead, cook, invest and speed-eat hot dogs by doing.  Experience is the greatest teacher. Don’t be afraid to make mistakes. Mistakes help you course-correct and keep you moving forward.

 Conclusion

Don’t settle for Maintenance Mode. Avoid Atrophy Mode at all costs. And keep growing. Not by watching or reading. But by doing. Get off the fence and climb aboard your own horse, bicycle or flying machine today. Then just keep at it until you get it Wright.

*If you got anything out of this post consider subscribing to receive future posts via email. I’ll try to write something smart or funny to make it worth your while. Heck, I’ll even spring for the email postage.

Are you as thankful as a farmer?

When I started my career in advertising my very first account was Case IH farm equipment. Case IH makes the red tractors, combines and implements that dot the American countryside. I was hired to work on the account because I have a farming background. In my job interview I shocked the ad agency leaders with my knowledge of PTOs, disk harrows and 12-row heads. I know these things because I come from a long line of farmers. My mom is one of nine farm kids. My dad is one of twelve.

As part of that first job I did a lot of research, talking to farmers about their wants and needs. In one of those conversations a farmer shared a quote with me that I will never forget. He said,

You will never find a farmer in Vegas. Because we are gambling out here every day.

A Farmer’s Reality

Farmers are gamblers who bet on themselves. They are the ultimate entrepreneurs.  They eat and breathe their work. Literally. They work from sun-up until sun-down. They reap what they sow. But to farmers, these are not clichés. These are the facts of life.

But here is the scariest reality of farming:  A farmer can work tirelessly every day, follow the best formula for success, never make the same mistake twice, and still go bust.

This is because a farmer does not control his or her own fate. They are at the complete mercy of Mother Nature. And Mother Nature doesn’t play fair. She doesn’t care how hard you work. Or that you’ve invested every dime you have into this year’s crop. And no one is immune to the whims of Mother Nature (except maybe the people who live in San Diego).

IMG_5731
Me and my kids visiting my Uncle Chuck and Aunt Karen’s dairy farm.

So the farmer can do everything in his or her power to grow a bumper crop, and then there is no rain. Or too much rain. Or a killing frost. Or flattening wind. Or hail. Or an eff-ing  grasshopper plague.

So this time of year, when the frost is on the pumpkin and the hay is in the barn, farmers are more thankful than you could ever imagine. While all Americans are thankful today, they are not as thankful as farmers.

IMG_7415
My Uncle Jerry’s farm, ready for the fall harvest.

Idea Farming

The moment I started planning to launch my advertising agency, I felt like I was getting back to my farming roots. Because I was betting everything on my ability to grow my own crops. But instead of producing corn, soybeans and milk, I would be growing creative ideas. And the hard thing about growing creative ideas is that you can’t buy the seeds from Monsanto.

Today, I am experiencing farmer-strength thankfulness. The Weaponry, the advertising and idea agency that I started in 2016, has transformed from a dream with a plan to a physical business with walls, doors and desks. We have world-class employees. We have great clients. And we are cranking out ideas like Iowa cranks out corn.

IMG_4523
My boys and my Uncle Jon, keeping things under control at my Uncle Randy’s farm.

6 things I’m thankful for this Thanksgiving.

  1. Today I’m thankful for my wife Dawn, who has demonstrated unwavering faith in my ability to feed, clothe and shelter our family.
  2. I’m thankful for my kids who share my love for ideas, adventure and creation.
  3. I’m thankful for my team of smart, self-driven creatives who produce valuable ideas every day.
  4. I’m thankful to my clients who have trusted The Weaponry to help them create the strategies and ideas they need to grow and thrive.
  5. I’m thankful for all of my friends. For handshakes and hugs. I’m thankful for those who will take my phone calls and reply to my texts. For the friends who have joined me this year for chocolate milk or a meal. And to those friends who like, comment or share something I post on social media.
  6. And on this day that we give thanks for the harvest I am especially thankful for my large farm family of Albrechts and Spraus. Our rich farming lineage has provided us all with a tremendous work ethic, a strong self-reliance, and a great appreciation for all that we have. Today we are working hard to pass the character traits that grow strong on farms on to our children. So that even though our offspring may never live on a farm, they will benefit from our family roots that reach deep into the rich black soil of Minnesota.

Summary

As you enjoy your Thanksgiving feast with friends and family take time to count your own blessings. As you pass the plates around the table remember where the food came from. And please say a little thank you for the farmer. Because surely they are saying thank you for you.

*If you decide to subscibe to this blog I woud be extremely thankful too.